European Committee of Social Rights Issues Landmark Ruling Against Bulgaria for Violating Rights of Roma to Adequate Housing
30 March 2007
Bulgaria Found in Violation of European Social Charter as a Result of Systematic Failure to Act on Positive Obligations
The European Committee of Social Rights has ruled that Bulgaria is in violation of the European Social Charter for systematically denying the rights of Roma to adequate housing, in a decision made public on Friday. The ruling has been welcomed by a coalition of non-governmental organisations working on housing rights issues concerning Roma in Bulgaria.
In the matter of the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) v. Bulgaria, the European Committee of Social Rights held that Bulgaria's policies with respect to the housing and accommodation of Roma infringe Article 16 (right of the family to social, legal and economic protection) and Article E (which focuses on non-discrimination) of the European Social Charter due to:
- Romani families being disproportionately affected by legislation which limits the possibility of legalising illegal dwellings;
- The inadequate housing conditions and lack of amenities experienced by Romani families; and
- The systematic eviction of Roma from their homes without providing them with adequate alternative housing.
ERRC Executive Director Vera Egenberger welcomed the decision, noting that "In its third decision on matters relating to the housing situation of Roma in Europe, the Committee has made its strongest finding to date. The text of this decision sets new standards of obligations by State Parties in implementing the rights enshrined in the European Social Charter. ERRC will closely monitor the implementation of this decision by the Bulgarian Government."
The Committee noted in regards to the adequacy of measures taken by the Government on the housing situation of Roma in Bulgaria, that "notwithstanding the clear political will expressed by the Government to improve the housing situation of Roma families", a number of government programmes and implementing measures produced in the period 1999-2005 "have not yet yielded the expected results" and a "period of six years…should have been enough to realise significant improvements".
Krassimir Kanev, Chair of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, said, "This ruling vindicates our efforts – repeatedly frustrated – to ensure that the Bulgarian government implements its own policies on Romani housing and to secure equal treatment for Roma in Bulgaria. We hope the decision will put an end to the long period of neglect by the Bulgarian government of its commitments under the Framework Programme for Equal Integration of Roma in Bulgarian Society and help revitalise efforts to fulfil them."
With regard to its finding of a violation of the prohibition of discrimination at Article E, the Committee stressed that "Article E not only prohibits direct discrimination but also all forms of indirect discrimination". The Committee further stated that "indirect discrimination may arise by failing to take due and positive account of all relevant differences or by failing to take adequate steps to ensure that the rights and collective advantages that are open to all are genuinely accessible by and to all".
Finally, for the first time in any judicial finding by any international body, the Committee found that "in the case of Roma families, the simple guarantee of equal treatment as the means of protection against any discrimination does not suffice" and that "for the integration of an ethnic minority as Roma into mainstream society measures of positive action are needed".
Claude Cahn, Head of the Advocacy Unit of the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), said, "This decision is one of the first in Roma rights to find an entire field of policy and practice by a European government illegal. It therefore marks a key turning point in our efforts to challenge the systemic human rights abuse of Roma in Europe. There is an urgent need for proactive measures to improve the appalling conditions under which a major segment of the Romani community in Bulgaria lives."
European Roma Rights Centre: (36 1) 41 32 200, email@example.com
Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions: (41 22) 734 1028, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bulgarian Helsinki Committee: (359 2) 9434876, email@example.com
Equal Opportunities Initiative Association: firstname.lastname@example.org
The European Committee of Social Rights supervises implementation by States of the European Social Charter and Revised European Social Charter. Further information on the Committee and the Charters is available at: http://www.coe.int/T/E/Human_Rights/Esc/.
The Complaint, brought by the European Roma Rights Centre in 2005, alleged Charter violations as a result of the systemic frustration of the fundamental rights of Roma to adequate housing in Bulgaria. The Complaint became Collective Complaint No. 31/2005 European Roma Rights Centre v. Bulgaria. The petition was declared admissible by the Committee in October 2005. The full text of the complaint is available here: Download it (zip file)!
As a result of the decision, the Bulgarian government must report on this issue to the Committee until such a time as the problems at issue in the decision is resolved.
The full text of the European Committee of Social Rights decision in Collective Complaint 31/2005, European Roma Rights Centre v. Bulgaria, is available here: Download it (zip file)!
The European Roma Rights Centre (http://www.errc.org), Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (http://www.cohre.org), Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (http://www.bghelsinki.org), and Equal Opportunities Initiative Association are all involved in legal and advocacy action to secure the fundamental rights of Roma to adequate housing in Bulgaria.
The Centre on Housing Rights & Evictions (COHRE) is an international human rights organisation committed to protecting and promoting the right to housing. For more information on COHRE see http://www.cohre.org.